Here's My Woodworking!
by Andrew Sawyer
My Uncle Paul, a professor of botony in Montana, gave me this chestnut leaf that was laminated, and asked if I could make a frame for it.
First, a little about the chestnut tree. Chestnut is an endangered species. In 1904 a fungus from an imported Asian Chestnut tree started a blight that wiped out most of the American Chestnut trees. The airborne fungus moved about 50 miles a year, and within decades the chestnut population was all but lost. My grandfather, a farmer in Vermont, was walking along the edge of his property in the woods, he noticed the chestnut tree. He knew of the blight, and recognized the rarity of this tree.
Sometime in the 1950s a new set of powerlines was being constructed in the vicinity of the tree. My grandfather contacted the head of the project and found out that the tree was in the way and was due to be cut down. He spent a lot of time and energy to protect it, sometimes even standing guard during the clearing process.
My grandfather shared the tree with my uncle in the 1970s. His efforts were rewarded. My uncle recently visited the tree to collect the leaf. He says it stands healthy at over 70 feet tall and is producing chestnuts.
My first choice of woods for the frame was chestnut, of course. After that anything in the beech family. I had some butternut, but could not find any chestnut that had bark. Uncle Paul was unwilling to cut a limb from the tree for this project. So butternut it was.
I quartered a 9 inch diameter limb and dried it for 8 or 9 months. It had warped, so the next stop was the jointer. Trying to keep the bark intact, I took very shallow cuts on many passes. To even out thicknesses and widths, I took some pieces to the Wood Slicer resawing blade on my bandsaw, which for me has been fantastic for straight and smooth cuts.
The frame is held together with handcut mortise and tenon joinery. I sanded it to 600 grit and finished with a quick coat of Mahoney oil and amber shellac. Maintaining the bark was the real challenge, along with keeping things square while having one irregular surface.
I presented the frame to my uncle recently, and he is very pleased with the frame. He can use it as a way to show the differnt layers of bark, the swirling grain of a burl and the cell structure of wood, including rays, the early and late wood, etc. He just rattles off the scientific names for each, fascinating.
I really enjoyed building this frame, and as a woodworker I really appreciate the efforts of my grandfather to save this rare tree, as well as the opportunity given to me by my uncle to be a small part in the story.
You can email Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For anyone interested in learning more about chestnut trees, the American Chestnut Foundation is a national organization dedicated to restoring the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands. Twice yearly they publish the American Chestnut Foundation Journal, for which there is an archive of past issues.
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